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G.fast networks of the future will be with us sooner than you think – Guest Editorial

Saturday, July 14th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 4,123
robin mersh ceo broadband forum

In a bid to deliver high speeds and more capacity to end users, ISPs are turning to that final stretch of copper to make ultrafast broadband a reality today. Tackling the last mile of the network that takes us right to the premises will unlock the extra bandwidth that consumers now expect for streaming content and practical communications applications.

One solution enabling the industry to deliver on this is Gfast – the broadband access technology that brings ultrafast broadband via existing copper networks. This creates a viable option to bring high-speed broadband, and the new services that this enables, to locations that cannot be reached by other access methods such as fiber, due to geographical terrain or low economic viability.

NOTE: This article is a special Guest Editorial for ISPreview.co.uk, which has been written by Robin Mersh, CEO of the Broadband Forum.

The most attractive part of this gigabit-class technology is that it delivers these high speeds without the need to either re-wire or disrupt existing premises or perform costly new construction work in and to premises – that in themselves can require lengthy civil works approval. For end-users, self-installation is also made possible.

By creating a financially viable milestone on the way to an all fiber strategy it will accelerate the availability of high speed Internet services for those who would otherwise have to wait for many years. Simply put, Gfast brings ultrafast broadband to more users by lowering cost of deployment. Gfast promises to cost-effectively deliver bandwidth-intensive consumer applications, such as cloud-based applications and 4K Ultra High Definition to homes and premises. Gfast can also help operators meet their own broadband targets by expanding the footprint of existing fiber networks. The latest versions of this ITU-T copper technology can reach two gigabits per second making it a strong candidate for multi-tenant buildings. Most consumers and small businesses will see almost every application being satisfied by 100-200 megabit per second Gfast services.

Building on lessons learned from DSL and important work already carried out around Gfast standardization, the industry will avoid difficulties experienced with proprietary products during the initial DSL roll out. Gfast also has other interesting features such as reverse power feed to further reduce installation costs.

The standardization story so far

Working in accordance with the ITU, which set the first standard for G.fast in 2014, the Broadband Forum has been driving this work.

A rigorous testing and certification program run by the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab (UNH-IOL) was launched last year and has quickly made an impact, with 12 companies now offering more than 40 combinations of certified interoperable products. Its Gfast Council was also formed to organize and disseminate the expertise and experience of the Gfast market to facilitate the rapid deployment of the innovative access technology and demonstrate how Gfast fits into the bigger gigabit broadband picture.

Basic performance, each system’s ability to operate in noise environments and implement mitigation features is also analyzed, while spectrum control is verified to conform to regional regulatory requirements and other requirements. The Forum also hosts regular test events known as Plugfests, with the next sessions due to take place in August and November 2018.

More recently, work addressing Gfast over coax has made great progress, increasing performance requirements in the long run. Several documents, including intone on Gfast bonding, have also passed the group’s final ballot. This is particularly significant, as it allows service providers to validate Gfast bonding performance to push higher speeds over long distances. Work on MGfast, – the next phase of Gfast – has also been launched with the addition of initial service provider requirements.

The rise of hybrid networks

This work has seen operators’ confidence around the technology grow and the time-to-market accelerate, but this is not only due to the progress being made on standardization.
Deploying a Hybrid Access Network is another prominent project being pursued by the Forum to address the last few meters of the copper network and deploy fiber deeper than ever. Hybrid access enables converged carriers the opportunity to leverage both wireless and wireline assets to provide high bandwidth services and increased reliability. It also opens up additional options as to how customers in challenging locations are served.

Using Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON), fiber can be fast and affordable – particularly when built correctly with standardized management in mind. Signal loss and strain can also be monitored through remote physical layer monitoring. Marrying it with Gfast by leveraging that all important existing physical infrastructure with FTTH pushes fiber within a few meters of the end-user for improved speeds, performance and easy management of the network.

Looking to the future

Gfast clearly has an important role to play in our future networks, so what’s next for the technology? At the Forum, we’re discussing a potential next phase of the Gfast specification which includes using multipair bonded Gfast itself as the backhaul for Gfast customer connections. Work on a second edition of a performance monitoring specification has also been given the green light.

Standardization and interoperability are at the heart of ensuring that Gfast will be widely accepted. Operators can sleep easy knowing that the use of a standardized interoperable products rather than proprietary solutions have been learned well for this copper technology.

Now that the last few meters are in sight and the promise of high speeds and more capacity are within reach, collaboration across the industry on this important work around Gfast is more crucial than ever. 2019 will soon be on the horizon, and with continued interoperability, so will a standardized Gfast that is capable of the high speeds consumers are craving.

Robin Mersh, CEO of the Broadband Forum.

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Robin Mersh
By Robin Mersh
Robin has worked in the telecoms industry for over 18 years, starting at Cable & Wireless and then BT. Robin is now CEO of the Broadband Forum, which is a non-profit industry organisation that focuses upon engineering better broadband networks. Find me on Twitter and Linkedin.
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57 Responses
  1. Virgin

    The future look dull and pushed back date after openreach has confirmed that my area for G.Fast won’t be ready until November 2020. Too slow and waste of time.

    • Spurple

      2020 is far away, but I won’t call GFast a waste of time if it can deliver 330mbps+.

      Don’t get too attached to the underlying tech, take speed however it’s given.

    • Mike

      I won’t benefit from gfast and getting FTTP will probably take at least 5-10 years if at all, looks like 5G will have to be my savior.

    • simon

      why dont you just use adslmax virgin?

      and wait another 1.5 years?

    • Carl T

      I’m pretty sure you said you weren’t interested in it anyway, Sir?

      Although that was after you repeatedly emailed Openreach because you were worried about the estimate you were given for the service, so I guess it’s a changing thing.

      It’s a process and, to be honest, the longer it takes to see G.fast arrive the higher the chances of going straight to FTTP.

    • simon

      I have 2 VM lines bonded together so getting 770/40 and that’s 24/7 so my hope is that VM have the kit in place now to do GB if they needed to. = the present looks good so the future dosen’t look dull for me at all. Like I said we’ve all been using the net since what 92? so we’ve come a long way since then = a few more years won’t really do any harm in the grand scale of things.

    • Skyrocket

      @ Simon

      why dont you just use adslmax virgin?

      and wait another 1.5 years?

      I could but I don’t want to fork out £48 a month! No thanks.

    • Skyrocket

      @ Carl T

      It’s a process and, to be honest, the longer it takes to see G.fast arrive the higher the chances of going straight to FTTP.

      I do hope it will go straight to FTTP and forget that G.,Fast if it still pushed back date from August 2018 then November 2020 and if went again push back to 2022 then FTTP could be consider by Openreach. I doubt it.

    • simon

      Hmm, am I talking to the other white you?

      You get what you pay for Max! you know that! I pay double that and I get a good service. You want g.fast at Plusnet prices you might be waiting a very VERY long time!

    • Skyrocket

      @ Simon , I just wondering why VM is very poor on upload if it was 385Meg down but why it only 22Meg up? VM should bring in more upload speed eg: 55Meg?

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      If you want a tailored product why don’t you take the gazillions you apparently have in the bank and buy one.

  2. Graham Long

    “G.Fast is a great technology to bridge a network gap of a few dozen metres. The cost of a G.Fast install and equipment is roughly equavalent to the cost of an FTTH install and equipment (~£800 per home). The top theoretical speeds of 500Mbps will only be available to those within a few metres of the node. Further out speeds degrade fast.” – Benoit Felton, Diffraction Analysis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=41&v=04M7Up4Mrgk

    • FullFibre

      Very good point made in that video about quality of service predictability at 4:40: https://youtu.be/04M7Up4Mrgk?t=281

      Exactly the reason why the benefits of fast broadband cannot be fully realised unless it’s full fibre.

    • A_Builder

      That really is very good video.

      Well expressed and clear.

      The long term investment money is there for FTTP if you can get the TELCO prism out of the equation.

  3. Optical

    G.Fast cab installed here last summer,update on Roadworks.Org about final connections being done on 2nd July two weeks ago,this disappeared on the day,no sign of work being done,& still not live.

  4. Tom

    Tackliing the last mile? With a technology that only reaches 300m?

    • Meadmodj

      I think the point of the article is to take the fibre further but not necessarily right to every sub premise or home. Previous trials of FTTDp may have failed but if the compactness and power issues can be addressed then there is no reason why copper cannot be used for the last leg where there are installation issues.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      Hard to know what the point of the article is when it is full of nonsense like…

      “…Gfast fits into the bigger gigabit broadband picture.”
      Really i though it only did “hundreds” of MB’s?

      “Marrying it with Gfast by leveraging that all important existing physical infrastructure with FTTH pushes fiber within a few meters of the end-user for improved speeds, performance and easy management of the network.”

      I would hope if i order FTTH from anyone it would terminate closer to me than a few metres. Where as G.Fast for the majority will be more than a “few metres” away. Does this person know what they are actually talking about or is this a PR piece for G.Fast?

  5. A Builder

    @Graham Long

    I quite agree.

    The article reads bit like a one of Gavin’s BT deployment dreams. Bonded Gfast for backhaul – that really is silly where there is a duct.

    My GFast connection is a bit variable when the wind blows and that is over a brand new copper drop. So I hate to think what bonded Gfast backhaul would perform like IRL. The higher the frequency the more temperamental the connection will be.

    @Spurple

    By 2020 330Mbps will look pretty pedestrian. User demand is growing faster than copper tech is now improving. There was a brief honeymoon period when FTTC came along that a decent FTTC connection was better than any average family could want. Now with a biggish family and a load of devices that is not the case anymore.

    These kind of copper based solutions are now a dead end and the less time spent, effort and money spent on them the better.

    Pure fire with or without PON is a far better place to be putting effort and investment. Even OR gave up on this plan when they looked at the costs of a full Gfast rollout and now, thankfully, Fibre First is in place.

    @Meadmodj

    The trials failed and the economics of the installation don’t really work so why bother flogging a dead horse now that there is a serious fibre rollout going on. Everyone including OR is onboard with pure fibre now.

    • FibreFred

      2020 is 2yrs away.

      I’ve had 50Mbps for over 3yrs now.

      What is changing in the next two years that will make 330Mbps pedestrian?

    • FibreFred

      OR have abandoned g.fast? When was this announced?

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      8k video we all know what that is, a REAL 8K 24+bit (not youtube compressed garbage) video stream will need 100+ Mb per stream

      Multiroom direct wifi to wifi audio streaming with no PC or similar device required. (apparently software is built into the wireless device allow it to stream to each other or allow each wireless device to play its own stream) rumours suggest it will use the Apple or Spotify catalog to start.

      MQA-CD-Fi. A new CD format recently release which with appropriate decoder plays back audio at 352.8khz/24 bit.
      Only really available in Japan at present and current amps/decoders are expensive, prices will obviously slowly start to drop over the next few years and as the format goes worldwide and are also likely to have the stream to stream tech within them.
      10 mins of audio can be as much as 800MB.

      Good luck with your 50Mb for just those few things.

    • A_Builder

      @FibreFred

      OK I could have been clearer.

      The articles was talking about the issues of using bonded Gfast to distribute to other Gfast nodes.

      So effecitly Gfast on every pole. That was what Gavin promised to stave off the break up of BT by OFCOM but the economics of that don’t work as they were not that greatly different to FTTP. So even BT/OR baulked at that.

      And the idea of putting a Gfast pod on every phone pole was dropped.

      @Lyncol

      The £25Bn number was an old number that was thrown around to put off the evil day of FTTP. It was designed to be the kind of cost to get the Treasury into a cold sweat. It was the highest number that could be described as plausible.

      And it was the cost of doing every single premises including the excruciatingly expensive ones in the middle of nowhere.

      OR are now bandying around £3-6Bn for around 10M premises. And OK that is a lot of low hanging fruit. But that combined with what the Alt Nets are doing and the rate it is being done at there won’t be a £25Bn cost to finish the job off.

      Maybe there will need to be a bit of state aid to tweak interest in doing the 75-95% band but but the economics of FTTP have changed massively in the last 5 years or so. And the more nearby POP’s there are around the place and more network sharing goes on the cheaper the build out becomes.

      And yes there will always be the middle-of-nowhere but there is a very good argo/rural SME argument for the national economic importance of fibre penetration into the middle-of-nowhere. And that can be made a simple licence condition that there is a build out rate in these totally uneconomic cases in return for access to the high density high ROI areas.

    • FibreFred

      As usual niche examples provided.

      No interest in streaming 4k never mind 8.

      A builder. Understood, yeah it’s hard to imagine g fast at the pole. Better off with connectorised fibre.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      By 2020 4K streams rather than 720/1080 will likely be the norm, not niche.

      Every new model of TV from major manufacturers (not new revisions of current model) in 2018 has been a 4K TV.

      Even if you still wish to argue you have no interest, how long do BT plan on G.Fast and FTTC actually lasting? It is dead end tech, be it 2 years from now or 20 years its dead sooner or later.

    • FibreFred

      Everything before it had a shelf life.

      Same with all products.

    • PaulM

      FTTP/H has no current shelf life unless there is something already available which i do not know about which is capable of more than FTTH.

    • simon

      @fred.

      I am on 385mpbs now and I can’t wait to see what Virgin will do in response. Instant speed boost nearly

    • FibreFred

      Paul fttp components have a shelf life.

      PON GPON XGPON….

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “FTTP/H has no current shelf life unless there is something already available which i do not know about which is capable of more than FTTH.”

      Agreed, our government and BT have gone about things totally wrong. If they were making cars we would still be stuck with the horse and cart even though technology is capable of more.

      What a ‘thing’ is capable of does indeed have a shelf life as Fred mentions, the only problem is BT keep buying the thing that goes out of date first. Id hate to see the contents of their fridge if they apply the same philosophy to that.

    • Sunil Sood

      @un4h731x0rp3r0m

      By 2020, use of the AV1 codec and similar will also be common, allowing high quality videos to have smaller file sizes then they do ATM.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      AV1 is an open source codec, and by 2020 its use will not be common especially in pay services.

      Being open source it has no fixed DRM rights ability within the codec. Third party DRM has to be applied to it either in software form or the hardware being used supporting a form of DRM (IE DRM content will only work in specific browsers because the codec itself has no rights management and specific hardware).

      Apple were all for it back at the beginning of the year, until they found out earlier Apple TV devices would not support DRM for it. Since then they have gone a bit quiet on the matter.

      It has no chance in succeeding in a commercial arena against HEVC/H.265 from the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG). AV1 can not even currently do HTML5 video. The only reason it is current flavour of the month with some organisations is being Open Source means they do not have to pay patent rights to use it, unlike HEVC/H.265.

      It also does not save as much space or compress to the same standard and save as much space as some people or you may think.

      Tests from Netflix showed that, based on measurements with PSNR and VMAF at 720p, AV1 could be about 25% more efficient than VP9 (libvpx), at the expense of a 4–10 fold increase in encoding complexity.

      Or in other words a 5 gig video file download would still be approximately 4 gig in size. While at the same time needing 4-10 times the amount of CPU power compared to VP9 to handle it satisfactory.

      HEVC/H.265 from the Moving Picture Experts Group compresses about the same but only needs 2-3 times the horsepower to do it now.

      Either way and either codec is not the saviour to those with slow connections. A 4k or 8k SINGLE stream at 50 Mbps would still need a connection speed of around 37.5 Mbps.

  6. Lyncol

    I also agree…. Anyone out there got 25 billion?

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      BT have long revised that original laughable and BS originally quoted figure to something more realistic.

  7. Kits

    G-fast is already in my area the cabinet is at the end of my road just before number 1 we are semi detached houses but not large enough gardens to fit cars down between them just a walkway. I am about 13 buildings down the straight road, I cannot get G-fast to far from the cabinet. Takes 5 mins to walk to cabinet on a bad day my son did it a 2 mins. So what use is G-fast if it is only the first few houses that can get it. Making the faster footprint smaller all the time.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      I think the answer about what the story is all about and the point comes after all the waffle…
      “By Robin Mersh
      Robin has worked in the telecoms industry for over 18 years, starting at Cable & Wireless and then BT.”

      Seems BT now asking ex-staff to hype their products.

    • Kits

      I have checked in the router my Attenuation is only 17dB so length not long. That really does make this product a failure as delivery is shrinking instead of increasing. I also noticed by doing the address checker for the street that the speeds of some of my neighbours can get faster further from cabinet than one two doors from the cabinet. Would seem that G-fast is very hit and miss with more misses than hits.

    • A_Builder

      @Kits

      You are assuming the copper goes in a straight line: which often doesn’t.

      On our street there is an obvious double back that is visible.

      The pole outside our house has an overhead link to the pole closest to the GFast Pod.

      So the poor so and so’s closest to the pod get worse throughout than I do.

      It is such a temperamental technology and only delivers significantly to the few.

    • TheFacts

      @un4h731x0rp3r0m – nice try, but he left BT in 1999.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “@un4h731x0rp3r0m – nice try, but he left BT in 1999.”

      No idea what you mean i clearly said he was ex-staff, i thank you for confirming it though. I also stated i doubt he was the architect of G.Fast.

  8. Jim Weir

    Australia has shifted from planned semi urban FTTP to Pole / Chamber DSLAM with G.Fast and backup VDSL.

    Right or Wrong – it is working out far cheaper than FTTH so the economics must add up.

    FibreFirst is a direct response to criticism of OR about lack of investment – no one is arguing that FTTP shouldn’t be the end game, but VDSL / G.Fast is simply a pragmatic step before that.

    Even with all the hype from altnets & Openreach, current plans & investments only take FTTP to below 50% by 2025. That’s still a lot of people needing that interim step.

    • A_Builder

      @Jim Weir

      I agree that those not on FTTP deserve a stop gap.

      Personally I think upgrading FTTC to a 35 profile and making bonded FTTC readily available would have solved a lot of this.

      GFast doesn’t help a feat deal because of poor reach. I live in a long street. We have a pod at each end of the street. I’m lucky I’m 140m (cable meters) from the pod and get 290/48.5 at the moment. One of my neighbours, who is physically closer to the pod, mainly because there is a bizzare pole to pole cable loop back on our street, can get it on the checker but the throughout is only marginally over the handback.

      The poor guys in the middle of the street are stuck with FTTC or VM.

      In all fairness to OR the FTTC on our street works pretty well.

  9. A_Builder

    @un4h731x0rp3r0m

    Or could Robin have been the architect of the original GFast plan recycling the idea?

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      Normally I would say that is possible but based on what he has to say in the item it appears he is clueless when it comes to the tech and what it is capable of to have been the architect of it.

  10. A_Builder

    @un4h731x0rp3r0m

    Good point.

    I’m quite enjoying the thread: some good points and humour (some unintended) coming out.

    Maybe @MJ was trying to tell us something about BT’s old style policy making by putting this up?

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “Maybe @MJ was trying to tell us something about BT…”

      Im still trying to work out why some BT items on here are actual news while the other half seem to be PR dribble that nobody else bothers to cover.

  11. Kits

    @ A_Builder the line is streight from cab there is 3 poles to my house, the cable actually doesn’t loop back anywhere. Also my speeds on FTTC is almost max so hardly a long line. 17dB DS Actual Rate : 70396000 bps US Actual Rate : 18999000 bps
    DS Attainable Rate : 70605320 bps US Attainable Rate : 21721000 bps. With those figures you would expect G-fast to work but now apparently my speed on G-fast was expected to be less than my FTTC speeds.

  12. Meadmodj

    The current OR use of the first generation of Gfast is very limited and badly thought through. However the DPU G.fast chipset market worldwide is forecast to rise to over £4bn by 2020 (was only £41m in 2016). So a lot of telecommunications products will utilise G.fast technology in the next few years. Fibre optic costs have fallen considerably over the last 5 years but if the cost point of G.fast falls considerably it could be back on the agenda particularly for multiple dwelling buildings. For example AT&T are rolling out FTTP as the basic strategy but they are proposing its use G.fast in high rise blocks on either telephone, TV coax or ethernet cabling depending on the costs (FTTB). Similar chipsets are in development for CPE products. Whilst Fibre Optic is superior to Copper its not always the best technology that wins but the one that is the most profitable. So it may be more G.fast technology not less. This guy may be a plonker, I don’t know, but I assume not as many leading companies are funding and involved in the Broadband Forum. He is reflecting the current discussions within the telecommunications industry. Whether this will impact the UK we will see, but I think it will.

    • Meadmodj

      Sorry figures should be $4bn by 2022 and $41m not GBP.

    • A_Builder

      @Meadmodj

      The thing that is being missed in the very well informed and thoughtful discussion here again is ROI.

      There are plenty of big funds looking for stable 20 yr returns. FTTP Offers that as there is no sunset to the technology

      On the other hand FTTC , the GFast all have identifiable sunset periods so they are not as investment attractive.

      The whole basis for the fibre hybrid funding argument was skewed from the start.

      BT was determined to only borrow to buy other businesses and not for internal investment. So the £25Bn full FTTP number was basically manufactured to show this couldn’t be funded from cash flow.

    • Meadmodj

      @A_Builder
      Agree BT made many incorrect decisions but lack of understanding of technology by Ofcom (and politicians) didn’t help. Foreign companies appear to understand utility investment more than the short-termism of the UK. We see it elsewhere in our economy. Investors in technology always appear jittery as they know something will come along to replace or challenge it and therefore tend to work to 5 year timescales. Many great ideas have died early for lesser offerings.
      We invest in submarine cables with very long lives knowing we can change the kit either end to exploit them even if they don’t technically perform as originally expected. The same attitude should be adopted for Fibre hence why I only like Fibre networks that are either discrete joined fibres or passive splitters (no powered kit in between). The investment in Fibre was and should still be the strategic choice but if G.fast drops significantly in price and usability then Fibre to each business/home will be challenged where existing wiring exists.

    • A Builder

      @Meadmodj

      Why bother investing in a copper dead end when the gold standard FTTP is now an investable proposition for most of the country?

      Sure we need bridging solutions but Gfast isn’t the solution due to its awful reach.

      If you can’t even cover an urban street properly, I think we all agree on that one, from one end to the other then it is IRL pretty useless.

      FTTB (B being basement) Gfast does have some use but if there is an accessible riser duct the bolt on cost of doing the job properly with a totally passive fibre network isn’t crazy. And that has been proved by the Alt Nets a lot of times.

      Set against that the Gfast pod needs power which costs money and has active components that will require maintenance (back up batteries have a finite life) and upgrading over time as well as being susceptible to failure. So the ROI take a hit as there is a higher on cost.

      So if Gfast pods are sprayed all over the place then there is a very large maintenance footprint and therefore overhead.

      Therefore the ROI on Gfast as well as being time limited is severely hit by the running costs of the estate.

      Conclusion Gfast is not investable in the same way as FTTP is. Gfast was a political move to stave off the breakup of BT it makes no technical or financial sense on a long term spreadsheet view. And has proved to be a lot harder to implement than BT originally thought/stated.

  13. jeep

    Am I missing the point of GFast ? I am fed by pole which is located about 10m from house if GFast is deployed by bolting a new cab on the side of my pcp cab which is approx. 300m away it will make no difference to my connection speed ? if so seems a fairly pointless idea unless you live extremely close to cab ? many thanks in advance for ant clarity on this.

    • Meadmodj

      Its costly and any sensible person looking at an attenuation graph would see that it would only apply to a very small percentage of the users on a FTTC cabinet. So yes G.fast as currently used by OR simply increases the disparity of speeds that will be experienced by customers on FTTC.

    • A_Builder

      It just dawned on me that another bit that got totally lost in the Gfast debate is that by my, admittedly back of a fag packet, calculations you could put an FTTP connectorised block on three phone poles for the price of one Gfast Pod.

      Figure it out this way

      a) you have to run the fibre to a point anyway
      b) you need to buy the pod and what is inside it
      c) the passive connectorised block costs very little by comparison with a Gfast active pod.

      The sting in the tail is that the high speed coverage that you get would be pretty much the same with either approach (as is the cost of deployment) except that the conectorised block approach is pretty future proof and fits within a broader rollout.

      And before someone says blocked ducts new fibre has generally been pulled through to the PCP’s already so the route from PCP to AGG Node is probably clear and will have likely passed some (or lots of) poles.

  14. Gary

    I have a pole about 15 metres from my house But i don’t think strapping a Gfast pod to it is going to improve my 1 and a bit Meg connection.

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